Reducing Health Care Costs with Digital Technologies

Reducing Health Care Costs with Digital Technologies

By Alison Verhoeven, CEO, Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association (AHHA)

Healthcare costs are on the rise. One main reason is the increasing aging population . According to various studies, it is reported that every Australian citizen has an average expected lifespan of approximately 83 years. However, most of their life’s journey is expected to include chronic diseases. These mortality trends lead to overall higher healthcare costs . In Australia, we have had Medicare – a universal health care system funded by the government. Medicare ensures that all Australians have access to public hospitals and primary health care such as general practitioners.

On the other hand, in the mix of Australian health care , we have private healthcare providers that mainly support the private hospitals, allied health care such as physiotherapy and dental. This hybrid healthcare system forms the baseline of the Australian healthcare system. Now if we are to look at the healthcare system against the backdrop of rising healthcare cost, the challenge is to continue to afford a universal health care system where everybody gets equal access to health care. Apart from the aging population, the second big challenge is around technological innovation and our general expectations from technologically advanced costly services.

"While investing in newer technologies, healthcare providers need to look at the outcome of the implementation, the cost associated with it and how that is going to reap benefit for citizens"

Overcoming These Challenges

The Australian healthcare system is currently a fragmented marketplace. Individual practitioners and service providers run their electronic medical record (EMR) on current technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), big data, clinical data registries, and many others. However, there is no standard process at place; rather, it varies from one healthcare provider to another. The digitization of critical assets is un-connected and in the silo . One way to manage cost is to ensure a better value proposition for the public.

The Australian community, both government and private providers, realize the critical role that government has to play in the standardization and optimization of the Australian healthcare system. The government needs to take a proactive and administrative role in setting standards and framework for developing a uniform infrastructure. However, that does not translate to the Australian government being a technology provider. Instead, they will have to come up with a set of standard rules and tools and work with the private healthcare provider to offer seamless healthcare for the citizens.

Current Trends and Ongoing Innovations

The current trend in the Australian healthcare segment is not strictly technological; instead, it is more about how different healthcare organizations are responding to the technological changes observed in this space.

On the flipside of current innovations in healthcare and the implementation of newer technologies, we do not have robust cybersecurity at place. Therefore, there is justified consumer concern about the safety and security of the data collected through EMR. Besides, the Australian government did not invest in resources and systems to address cybersecurity. Recent technological advances are shifting the paradigm of Australian Healthcare. Both government and private healthcare providers are focusing more on the privacy concerns of the consumers.

To improve healthcare through the delivery of digital systems, the Australian government has set up an Australian Digital Health Agency. The agency monitors the national digital health strategy. Currently, the health agency is focusing on the policy around interoperability of systems. Also, each of the states government is contributing to a digital strategy around the hospital systems across Australia. At an individual hospital level, we still have not reached the maturity level of technological advances as other sectors. Therefore, we need to continue focusing on going the length to help technology to mature in the healthcare space.

Keeping up with Changing Environment and Enhancing Patient Care

Keeping up with technological advances, many Australian hospitals opt for a lean manufacturing approach. Once they produce the final product, they look for bottlenecks to address and bring in more efficiency. Therefore, it is less of a technical approach than a humane approach.

One of the issues that stood out during the rapid rollout of EMR is the shortage of useful informatics. Consequently, there is a need for people with medical coding capabilities. Besides, we need a skilled workforce in business analytics to be able to develop the case acquisition of new technological products. Innovations, like artificial intelligence, are rapidly changing the way that clinicians or radiologists perform their work. The main challenge for them is to maximize the benefits of innovation without losing sight of their primary role – deliver better health outcomes to people.

At present, many hospitals and clinical groups are focusing on delivering effective healthcare to citizens. They measure ways to improve the experience for the population. In this context, health technology assessments are becoming critical for healthcare providers. While investing in newer technologies, healthcare providers need to look at the outcome of the implementation, the cost associated with it and how that is going to reap benefit for citizens.

The Journey Ahead

The healthcare space is waiting on the world to change, and it will change how we look at technologies as a whole. So it is crucial for healthcare providers to educate the people about health technology to help them stay fit and cut down on medical expenses. For example, using wearable medical devices like early breast cancer detector, blood glucose detectors, heart health monitors can significantly reduce the healthcare cost for the general population. These devices help to manage chronic diseases, repeat occurrences of health issues, and more to keep people well for longer duration and keep them away from hospitals.

Also in a geographically diverse country like Australia, healthcare professionals need to look at technology to simplify many of their work and make healthcare accessible and affordable in a geographically remote location. So in coming years, we will see many healthcare providers assessing technologies that will help them bridge the geographic gap.

Finally, Words of Advice

As I have already mentioned, while selecting new technology, healthcare providers need to do a thorough health technology assessment. The concentration needs to shift from financial gains or mere digitalization. It has to provide value to our end users. The principle behind the organizational drive should be ensuring good health and make healthcare affordable to everyone. Technology is here to simplify and do our work, and not be the purpose of our work.

Weekly Brief

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